Latika Katt’s talking heads

Chiselling masterpieces: Latika Katt with bust of N.S. Bendre

Chiselling masterpieces: Latika Katt with bust of N.S. Bendre   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Latika Katt’s three bronzes at “Chehre” convey the nuances of the master sculptor’s touch and sensibility

At the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi, “Chehre”, curated by Director General Adwaita Gadanayak and his in-house team, has a slew of heads that are riveting, a testimony to the history of modernism in the evolution of sculptural heads in the firmament of bronzes and plaster and moulding. Three heads in the exhibition belong to mentor and sculptor Latika Katt. She talks to us about the power of condensing expression.

Natural flow

Naturality of form, the spontaneous flow of a flock of hair, or the jaw line of a high cheeked boned face and expression is what sets her works apart. Back in Delhi from Varanasi where she casts her sculptures Latika is happy to go back in time.

Her hands portray the passion and penchant for a natural flow of contours that has borne her and brought her into being. Leaning towards the paan chewing head of Jeram Patel, she reflects on her vigorous call to life. “Ram Kinker Baij modelled for me in the mid-70s. Mulk Raj Anand modelled for me in 1984. I never did drawings, I just worked directly on the faces of the friends and people I was modelling ,” she reflects.

“I always felt sculpture has to be marvellously clear and transparent in terms of translating the expression of the sitter/subject. I would often ask my subjects if they would sit for me. The expression on their faces is what drew me to my subjects. My works were born of the effort of thoughts and observation, rising into the reality of the lived moment from the characteristics of what I saw,” she explains.

Admirer of Rodin

A great admirer of Auguste Rodin, she remembers how he refused to idealise his subjects. “He chose to show his people as he found them, old and wrinkled or young and voluptuous.”

Rodin often spoke and wrote about his belief in nature and its systems and about how he used naturalism as a powerful expressive element in his work. Here at the NGMA, Latika’s leitmotif is naturalism and that is what sets her three works apart.

Emotive content

In the three heads, N.S. Bendre (1981), Balraj Pandit (1979) and Jeram Patel (1983) chewing paan, you can see amply that Latika believes that the attributes of the surface and of the contours of a piece of sculpture can help determine its emotive content and thus its impact on the viewer. Thus these three heads are more about the expressive features of faces and heads and not poses.

They also reflect the brilliance of the way visible surfaces of Latika’s bronzes – talk to us – the rough, expressive, and mood-catching modelling — represent the vitality and emotion of her subjects. Seen in such light, the perceived changing characters of her sculptural surfaces, specially in the way she captures the flow and grace of the hair of her subjects, carries great potential for expression and evocation.

Balraj and Bendre

Latika talks about Balraj Pandit (1980), the theatre persona who mentored Naseeruddin Shah, “As soon as I saw him, I was filled with admiration; this tall, thin, theatre enthusiast expressed his ultimate aesthetics and deep love for acting in his bearing, his fea-tures and his physical charisma, yet also the mystical character of his face seemed attractive to me. I asked him if he would sit for me, I immediately saw in him a man of nature, a visionary, a believer of what he created.”

“When I created Bendre, the artist, I wasn’t looking at his clothes or body attributes I was looking at the way his hair fell, at the way it parted, a little uncombed, but very defined and the way he would just spend his time painting. The movement of his head, its poise was so right, so straightforward and so true that I said I have to create him.

I immediately resolved to model what I had seen, I use the Italian method of moulding the clay, casting it in wax and then creating my heads. That’s how I came to make Bendre. All I did was recreate what I saw in his mannerisms.”

Facial features

The subtle planes of the facial features of Jeram Patel convey the quiet grace of the sitter. The sinuous lines of the full cheek bones, stretching upward, the way his hair works its way down the left side of his face, the head leaning backward so as not to interrupt the formal importance of that expression – all of these demonstrate Latika’s ability to use contours in service of expression.

As is typical of how she works eventually, the individual characters became fodder for her imagination, fuelling her creative use and reuse of parts of the head. In the fall of the lock of hair and the expression around the mouth, Latika presents Patel’s predica-ment as a subject and in doing so, she emphasises expressive surfaces in new ways.

Monopoly of male portraits

Interestingly, Latika’s monopoly in creating stunning male portraits attest to her interest as a sculptor in traditional male characteristics that arrest rather than in simple contours that are placid or flat. These three heads at the National Gallery of Modern Art also point out Latika’s precision and her working methods. “I always used real persons to model my figures – I never made up a face or a figure. All my works consist of images of real people, often even my relatives and young students as models,” she reminisces.

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Printable version | Mar 24, 2020 8:37:49 AM |

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